Republished: Second Life Workshop at CTSS

Posted on 6 February, 2008


 This post originally appeared on Dan’s Glass Houses blog on May 4th, 2007.

I co-presented a Second Life workshop at the Curriculum, Teaching & Student Support Conference at The Open University this week.  Held in a well-equipped information literacy suite the workshop presented an overview of “What is Second Life?”, followed by a summary of the work The Open University is currently doing on the Teen and Main Grids.  With that out the way we dived into the all important hands on portion.

Attendees included a few individuals who had spent just an hour or two in Second Life and a much larger number for whom it was their first in-world experience.  With that in mind we started with an ice-breaker activity, asking everyone to line up in age order.  Of course this had to be done using only in-world communication (despite the group being located together in the real-world), and provided an excellent lesson in movement and basic communication.

We spent a short amount of time on altering appearance before heading to the Prisoner’s Dilemma game I built specifically for Schome’s main and teen grid islands.  The workshop attendees were divided into two groups, and positioned themselves either side of a large dividing wall on our mini-‘Alcatraz’ island.  The game begins with each team being caged.  The teams independently choose to ‘cooperate’ or ‘betray’ in each of the ten game rounds.  Whist we only played through the first three rounds, this demonstrated an interactive build (the game receives team choices on a private channel then displays each teams choice and score on each side of the wall), private team communications (we set up a Second Life group for each team) and how Second Life can support collaborative activities.

Finally we provided a list of interesting places so that attendees could do a bit of (guided) exploration for the last part of the hands on.  With this complete the group logged off Second Life and discussed the range of possibilities and pitfalls associated with the widespread use of it to support education.  One question that arose was whether Second Life and the mainstream games industry had a similar age and gender appeal, something which I felt I should look into more closely as I currently rely on fairly anecdotal evidence.  Linden Labs most up to date statistics (available here in a range of formats) report the average age on the adult grid as thirty, with the average age on the teen grid being fifteen.  With regard to gender the split has been very close to 58% male, 42% female for the last six months.  By comparison the Entertainment Software Associations report on game player data states that the average computer and video games player is thirty three, with a ratio of 62% male to 38% female players (this however covers only the US gaming market).  As such one must conclude that whilst Second Life is not what we would commonly understand to be a computer or video game, it has a remarkably similar demographic.

Another issue centred on the take-up and learning curve for new technology.  One attendee reflected on a bespoke system The Open University developed several years ago.  The system supported online synchronous collaboration using voice and text communication alongside tools such as a virtual whiteboard.  It was widely agreed that whilst Second Life is almost certainly going to appear strange and unfamiliar to most during their first few hours, alongside the bespoke tool it offers a far less aggressive learning curve with far greater potential for innovative educational use.

All in all the event was well attended and led to some challenging yet positive discussions that will do much to shape future involvement in Second Life.